The Colorado Water Institute (CWI), an affiliate of Colorado State University (CSU) since 1965, exists for the express purpose of focusing the expertise of higher education on evolving water concerns and problems in the Centennial State.
Formerly known as the Colorado Water Resources Research Institute (CWRRI), CWI is part of a national network of fifty-four water institutes—one in each US state, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. The water institutes have a unique mission, positioned between academic scholarship and the world of water management and politics. The 1964 federal Water Resources Research Act sought to create long-term linkages between universities and state and federal agencies for the solution of the nation’s water problems. A national network of water institutes could focus locally on state problems, identifying research needs that could be filled at nearby universities. The national program is administered by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and provides an annual grant to each institute for research, coordination, outreach, and training. The CWI also has authorization from the Colorado legislature, which had changed the name from CWRRI to CWI in 2008. Additional research funds provided annually by the Colorado Water Conservation Board help fund faculty and student work on high-priority water issues at all of Colorado’s public universities.
The CWI has a long history of fostering collaboration between academia and public and private entities. One such collaboration with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1980 involved a brochure and educational film on the treatment of lands as a method of filtering municipal water supplies. Other significant partners have included the US Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. In 2012 Colorado House Bill 12-1278 tasked CWI with studying reports of high groundwater levels in the South Platte River basin with the hope of better administering the region’s groundwater. The institute reported its findings to the legislature in late 2013, prompting several bills to address the problem. In 2015 CWI convened a think tank of twenty experts that published a document to help water users and administrators better understand how water conservation practices are protected under current law and administration.
Over the last fifty years, the institute’s five directors—Stephen C. Smith (1965–67), Norman A. Evans (1967–88), Neil S. Grigg (1988–91), Robert C. Ward (1991–2006, and Reagan M. Waskom (2006–present)—collected a vast array of water-related documents and materials. In the early 1990s, Robert Ward initiated successful efforts to create a Water Resources Archive at CSU’s Morgan Library. The Water Resources Archive is a joint effort of CSU Libraries and the CWI and consists of collections from individuals and organizations that have been instrumental in the development of water resources in Colorado and the West.
One of the roles of the CWI is to foster the development of the next generation of water scientists, managers, and educators. To help increase the number of well-educated future water managers, CWI funds student research projects and works with the USGS and other water agencies to create opportunities for student internships.
Fifty Years of Success
The success of the CWI is attributable to the work of water faculty and their students over the past fifty years. Faculty at CSU, CSU–Pueblo, University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado Mesa University, University of Northern Colorado, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Western State University, and other public universities have collaborated with water managers in Colorado to identify and tackle the broad spectrum of contemporary water problems, including drought, flooding, groundwater, irrigation, drinking water, reservoir management, invasive species, water reuse and conservation, and many others. Over that span, CWI has produced more than 400 research studies and reports, all of which are available on its website.
During the 2016 legislative session, CWI provided the results of a stormwater modeling evaluation to help the legislature assess the impact of a new bill permitting rainwater harvesting. The information provided helped the legislature move forward on this bill, passing it into law during the session. CWI followed up with information for homeowners interested in harvesting rainwater, available online via CSU Extension.